County Claims $500,000 in Losses by Contractor with Ties to Warren Jeffs

CBS 8, Las Vegas/September 18, 2007

Clark County says it has lost about $500,000 because of shoddy work done by a contractor with ties to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs.

Last year, the Channel 8 I-Team first reported that polygamists had moved into Las Vegas and had secured several government contracts worth millions of dollars. Now, at least one of those contracts has come back to haunt the county.

Jacob Jessop, owner of JNJ Engineering Construction, moved his family and his company to Las Vegas from the polygamist stronghold of Colorado City, Arizona for a simple reason.

"We have a lot of work to do here," Jessop told the I-Team.

Jessop's company has been awarded more than $11 million in contracts from the county, city, and water district over the past four years.

How is he so successful in bidding for contracts? Polygamy critic Flora Jessop, Jacob's cousin, says it's simple.

"Because they don't have to pay any labor because they use their children. It ensures they will be the winner of that contract. They work day in and day out and they get their pay check and they sign it over and turn is straight back over to their boss," Flora Jessup said.

One of the most recent contracts awarded to JNJ for restoring habitat at Clark County's Wetlands Park area. JNJ was to remove invasive tamarisk trees and replace them with native trees and shrubs in what is an ecologically fragile park on the east side of the valley.

However, instead of improving habitat, the county says JNJ killed hundreds of expensive trees that were raised just for this project. One estimate of the damage is more than $500,000.

The I-Team obtained dozens of pages of inspection reports from the job site. They reveal an ongoing battle with the company to do the job right. Inspectors say they often found JNJ employees sleeping in the bushes or in their trucks, driving vehicles that leaked oil onto the wetlands, pruning trees down to stumps.

The most persistent problem was the application of an herbicide named Garlon. County inspectors repeatedly warned JHJ to stop spraying Garlon when temperatures exceed 80 degrees. They did it anyway, the county says, again and again. Now hundreds of trees and shrubs have been tagged for removal because they're dead or dying. An arborist hired by the county described the damage as egregious and incalculable.

The memos show there were strained relations on the site. Inspectors repeatedly complained about leaking irrigation pipes installed by JNJ. Jessop alleges his pipes were sabotaged by county workers. JNJ even called Metro to report it. The county responded by barring some of JNJ's employees from the site and discovered some used phony names.

Flora Jessop, for one, isn't surprised by the shoddy work since JNJ has little if any experience with anything close to a wetlands project.

"Not at all. These guys pour concrete and nail boards together. They don't plant trees. They know how to grow tomatoes and corn. That's about it," Flora Jessup said.

It appears Clark County is preparing to go to court against JNJ. For that reason, the county declined to appear on camera but told the I-Team it provided continuous oversight of the project and has been trying to work with the contractor to resolve things without litigation.

State officials have found no proof that JNJ might have violated child labor laws. But in Arizona, the company is under investigation by the Department of Labor for using minors on job sites. Flora Jessop thinks profits from polygamist companies end up in the pockets of church leader Warren Jeffs, who was arrested outside of Las Vegas carrying a pile of cash.

Flora Jessop continued, "I know for a fact it does. As a matter of fact, I have it on good authority that the $55,000 that was in Jeffs' vehicle when he was pulled over was a payment from JNJ that Jeffs picked up."

JNJ would not comment for this story. However, while Jeffs was in the Clark County jail, one of the only names on his visitors list was that of Jacob Jessop.

JNJ, which still has a presence on the wetlands job site, does not have a license for spraying herbicides or pesticides, as required by law, but still landed a contract to do such work at the park.

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